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Duke Energy Coming To Ruin My Life

Well, I figure I need to write this out now that the cat is sorta already out of the bag and all. Clear up some details and such.

Back in October we received a certified letter from Duke with a proposed substation development about 1/2 mile to the north of our house. This would then create the need to run a new 110kv line from the substation to an already established line 1 mile to the south of our house putting our house directly in the middle. 

Unfortunately, we work full time and the letter required a signature upon receipt so it sat at the post office. The first Saturday after notification, I ran to the local post office to retrieve it only to find out our local office is only open from 9-10 am on Saturdays and it was 11 am. By the time I was able to get the letter, the original town hall meeting was past.

Luck was on our side this time as hurricane Matthew hit the night of the meeting delaying it to a date we could attend. And attend we did.

The view from the house looking at the main pasture. The proposed route would either go along the tree line (removing all trees) or 200′ down hill from the trees and right through the pasture

I’ve never been to a town hall meeting before and had no idea what to expect. Duke was out in full force with the church room filled with various stations: there was a large blown up map of the proposal, a real estate specialist, the engineer for the towers, the engineer for the substation, an interactive online map to zoom in on your property, a table set up to write letters of concern, and various other employees scattered around to answer questions. 

I started right away with the map proposal. There are 10 different routes the new power line could take and two of them involve us. I really wanted to gather as much information as I could before I got all Doomsday about the project, but what I learned didn’t really help matters in that regard. 

The line coming our way. Our property is in red with the star. 

Here is what I learned that night:

1) The line would have a 68′ easement with restrictions for what plant material could live inside it. Small fruit trees, vegetables, and native grasses were all approved. Any trees outside the 68′ easement that posed a potential to fall within it would also be cut down. Livestock is permitted to graze within the easement. 

2) They spray an nonspecific plant killer, basically Roundup, along the entire easement to kill all vegetation.

3) No structures can be within the easement. Fences are permitted to cross the easement at a 30-90 degree angle, but can not run parallel within it. Any fence must have a gate and Duke provided a key.

4) Duke would have 24/7 access to the easement without providing prior notice.  

Zoomed in on just us. You can easily see that the proposed line runs right down the driveway which would then be parallel within  the easement.  This would mean that they would need to move the driveway. 

With that information, I began to ask questions.

First and foremost, our driveway was within the proposed easement and would run parallel within it. I pointed this out and was told “well you can’t have a driveway there” Uh huh. Well, my driveway already exists so….

The engineer pulled the real estate guy into the conversation at this point and he attempted to talk in circles while I continued to ask very pointed questions. First he told me ” Duke has to leave your property the same as they found it so if you have a driveway to access your property, Duke would need to create a new one for your use”.

And where would this new access point be?

The issue here is that our front entrance is narrow. Someone must have split off and sold a 4.5 acre parcel of road front property years ago as ours now enters via the drive and then fans out behind it. The only way the driveway could be moved would be to pave the front 3 acre pasture but even at that we would lose the electric gate that provides us security. When I pointed this out and the loss of pasture/hay it would cause I was told “horses can graze in the easement” Uh huh…but they can’t graze on asphalt which is what the entire front 3 acres would become so….

Continue lines of BS and circular talk. 

Red line shows the only possible place for the driveway. The drive is double wide and asphalt so they’d have to put in the same, but I’m not even sure there is a way to do that with the direction the drive takes without re routing the entire 1/4 mile long drive or taking out the tiny strand of trees, the horses only natural weather break in that pasture. 

My second question was about the access Duke would have to this part of our property. What if our horses were grazing when they came in and they got out? Response “Yeah, that does happen and Duke will reimburse you the cost of the animal”  Uh huh…and how much is my emotional destruction when you kill my equine partner worth? Or worse yet, how much is Duke prepared to pay when a car hits a 1300lb horse and everyone dies? 

My last question was about the pay out. If they wreck 6 acres of my land, do they pay the $12,000 an acre we paid a year ago? I doubt it. The real estate guy was vague. I told him I’d gladly let him run the line for 25% commission off all money earned on the line. He wasn’t up for that. Then I told him he could have the entire place. Build the substation right here. Buy me out for what we paid plus any increase in value for our upgrades and we will move away. Nope on that too.

A Google image I used last year to plan out the combining of pastures. #2,3,4 have since been combined as have 5 with 6 (extended into the blue by 6) and 1 with 7 (still working on extending into the blue behind 7). The line would take out all of 1 and run through 2 and 3 leaving us with the smallest sections in the back only during construction with the hope that we could eventually use 2 and 3 again in the future. 

I had other issues. If they took out all the trees at the top of the hill which they proposed to do, would they pay the $10,000 to put in a horse shelter since they removed all natural shelter? Would they pay to board all three horses during construction since the entire property would be open and fences removed during the project? What about the run off of Roundup into the pasture killing off swathes of grazable grass and into the pond at the bottom of the hill killing the ecosystem and poisoning the fish  my son catches and eats?

After hitting all the stations, speaking with everyone and gathering facts, we ended the night by writing letters to Duke stating all the above concerns not to mention the aesthetic loss and the complete destruction of wildlife habitat (owls, osprey and foxes live in those woods) and loss of property value. They ended the meeting saying that the line would be chosen in the first quarter of 2019, land purchased in the second quarter and construction to begin in 2020 and last through 2022. 

Not one to sit on my laurels, I immediately reached out to the real estate agent who sold us the property and the attorney who did the closing to a) find out what our rights were if we could prove the seller knew this in advance and didn’t disclose it and b) any information about ways to fight it. 

In regards to a) Duke didn’t send any information out until the letter we had received so if the seller had insider information we can’t prove it. As for b – he recommended reaching out to Forever Upstate, a local conservation agency. I called them the very next day, but they were a dead end stating that Duke can plow through even conservation granted land. I did learn from them that I can create an agreement with Duke to self manage the easement which can prevent the use of Roundup and allow a healthier environment. 

My only hope in all this is that maybe they’d pay us out enough that I could afford a complete redo of my arena. It is the only silver lining I can find. 

My next step was to reach out to a local land use attorney, but again I reached a dead end. He has fought eminent domain cases for nearly two decades and unless we have federal/state backing for a historic property or some endangered species on the land, we were basically SOL. He is more than happy to take our case if they come our way to help increase the purchase price and has been very successful in that regard. His name is in my back pocket in the event it gets that far. 

At that point I felt like I was at the end of the road until Bette messaged me about another attorney who was involved a few years ago in a  very large case against Duke and won. I immediately contacted him, but you guessed it – dead end. While he was a part of the project, he only did so because his own house was going to be 900′ from a 50 acre new station. He did give me a new avenue though. Apparently, Duke needs approval from the Public Service Committee and that won’t happen until the route is finalized. This gives me a chance to get the entire project shut down or at the least convince them to go another way. 

I’ve printed out the formal protest letter and we will be hitting up all the houses on our route to get them to write one of their own. His project was stopped due to 700 letters and 50 people speaking out and there is no way we will have that many, but anything is better than nothing. 

I won’t go down without a fight. 

The next step for Duke is to come out and do a land survey with us present to point out all our issues. The only two ways the line can run through our property are to either a) take out all the trees along the big pasture hill top or b) run right through the pasture. Both have pros and cons. Personally, if they have to do it at all, I’d prefer the tree route. It ruins the natural shelter our horses currently have, but will have the least impact on the actual pasture and would make resale easier as it would be barely on the property line. IF they run through the center of the pasture, the trees are maintained but who wants to look at high power lines right through the middle of the yard? The construction destruction, noise and loss of pasture use would be worse going that way. 

I’m crossing my fingers and going into the meeting armed with all the expenses Duke would have to pay if they came our route hoping that it will convince them to go another, cheaper way. 

It devastating, stressful and pisses me off that I am having to do this after 15 years of saving and planning and dreaming of a farm. I love this property. I love the way it is laid out, the large pastures that ensure year round grass when rotated appropriately, the sunrises behind the hilltop trees and the sunsets over the fishing pond. My heart breaks as I envision the view, the loss of use and the destruction of a high power line running through the heart of it. It wouldn’t be so bad if it was tucked away at the back or came through a small corner. This would run the entire length of the property. 

We will see how Saturday goes.  

44 thoughts on “Duke Energy Coming To Ruin My Life”

    1. That’s another potential avenue. Water table/ well sources is bigger deal than just one pond. Horse habitat, driveway…You don’t necessarily have to prove everything, just make your routes the least attractive.

      Who wants to grow veggies or fruit under a power line with round up sprayed over it?! Bet them tomatoes grow big tho 🙄😕.

      Also maybe find any settlement values if they do kill a horse? Pain and suffering of yourself and son can really up the money paid out potential. I hate playing those games. I get they need to build these things, but go down government/railroad etc property where it doesn’t destroy people’s homes and dreams.

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  1. Wow this is devastating I have no words!

    I have always always ALWAYS been baffled at how companies can be allowed to do this, but sadly am no longer surprised.

    A friend lost their family farm (that had been in their possession for 100 years) to a mining company. Apparently when you purchase land you only own the top 6 inches of soil, and the government sold them everything underneath it.

    Sure, they got paid out, but they didn’t want to get paid at all, they just wanted their home.

    Fingers crossed for a resolution soon.

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  2. Oh man. I can’t even imagine getting this news!
    I’m keeping my fingers crossed that your property is more trouble than it’s worth. I have no idea how often these propositions actually come to fruition?

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  3. Yes, find a good land use attorney. They can at least get the best price if your land is condemned due to eminent domain. BTDT. Some attorneys specialize in dealing with oil & power companies. In Texas, most trees have a market value according to species, size, etc. talk to your ag extension service.

    Are you up on your ornithology? We had a power line company wanting to cut right through the middle of our small ranch. I got it rerouted around the edge after pointing out that the original route would go through nesting sites of the black-capped vireo(endangered species). Research any endangered/threatened reptile, amphibian, bird, fish, etc.!

    Keep us posted, we know how stressful this can be!

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    1. I’ll have to research the birds that nest here. I spoke to a local conservation group and they didn’t know of anything endangered in my area. You can buy redwood tree saplings to plant and my husband wants to quickly plant a bunch so they can’t come through and cut them down but I’m not sure that would work since they aren’t native

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  4. I think you should put H’Appy on the market for $50,000 and tell them you have an expensive horse that they would have to pay for if anything happened to him! I am so sorry that this is happening to you and hope you are able to make your property very undesirable for Duke! I went to the town hall meeting when they had the one for up here and it was so discouraging b/c they made you feel like there was nothing you could do to stop them but we were able to! My fingers are crossed for you guys to stop them!!!!!! If I can think of anything else to help you out I’ll send it your way!!!!

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    1. You know how funny it would be if I listed him for 50k and someone actually bought him?! I can just picture it!

      I appreciate the info you already passed on and I am to call him back tomorrow to get the names of some of the other attorneys on the case up your way. Hoping they might be able to help

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      1. H’appy actually has pretty amazing ApHC lines. To purposely search out another appy with same lines in the appy world, he wouldn’t be cheap.

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      2. I remember you discussing his lines and being impressed with it. At his age, even with a lack of breedability, he still would have a pretty decent career ahead of him which, in ApHC world, would also increase his value. It’s awful having to think that way; Duke is a jerk!

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  5. Ugh I’m just so so so sorry 😦 I hate the power some of these giant corporations have and that individual needs are so easily dismissed in the face of what’s perceived as the greater good. Wishing you luck in finding ways to get this situation to work out better for you!

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  6. First, I absolutely HATE this for you. Hate hate hate. I am so very sorry y’all are having to spend time worrying, researching, and pushing back. That is absolutely no fun and such a burden on your already busy lives.

    But! Sounds like you’ve done a lot of great homework here! I applaud your efforts – so many landowners don’t do so much footwork with eminent domain cases. The only other thing I’d encourage you to push for with Duke is an alternatives analysis. Okay, they “have” to do their project, fine. But do they HAVE to come through/around your property THAT way? What other alternatives have they looked at? Demand this from them. If this project is big enough that it’s going through Federal channels this is something they’ve likely done as a part of their NEPA analyses. You should be able to ask for some contingencies with the siting.

    Beyond the alternatives analysis, research/ask about opportunities for a narrowed right-of-way (ROW) for all or part of your property. Rarely does a company HAVE to make a ROW as big as they say. It makes it easier for them to have them bigger, but other Federal permitting entities can make them narrow them in certain areas for a variety of reasons. Companies can absolutely function successfully with narrowed ROWs. This project’s line doesn’t seem too long so to have a narrowed portion that takes a little bit of extra time to be more careful working in due to the narrow ROW shouldn’t be as big a deal. They’ll wail and gnash their teeth because it’s what they do, but ultimately they can absolutely comply and work with limitations like that. They’ll wail and gnash more because you’re a “small” entity to deal with as compared with an environmental agency or historical preservation agency, but you DO still have power and rights to request things like this.

    Finally, while it sucks that you have to do some of the legwork, don’t hesitate to provide them with a list of alternative practices for their ROW that they could implement that would make your life easier. Different kinds of gates perhaps that auto-close (spring loaded or something passive like that) to help give you peace of mind. Glyphosate and similar herbicides could be harmful to Wyatt or the horses, they don’t HAVE to use these methods. They could always come in and hand-cut things mechanically. Might mean they’re there in person more but that’s better than chemicals! Same with the driveway, if you know how it would/wouldn’t work to re-do it, give them options to choose from. Kinda like parenting, you give them a suite of choices, but all are choices you’d be happy with.

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    1. Oh and beyond bird species to consider for a push-back, look at pollinators. Pollinator habitat and pollinator species are really heating up right now. Herbicides and loss of habitat are a huge reason for their die off. You can imagine how important pollinators are for all of us! See if any federally listed or proposed-for-listing species are in your area. Toss a polygon of your property on IPaC ( https://ecos.fws.gov/ipac/ ) and see what the species list returns. I don’t know if it works for SC, but as an agency we’ve pushed big for IPaC across all regions.

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    2. Thank you so so so much for the info. I don’t think we have a smoking gun but if I can gather enough it may all add up. We are now looking at the pond and the spring that feeds it and will ask about the narrower ROW.

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  7. wow this just sucks. that is all everyone else has given you great advice. 😦 hope you beat this make them have to work too hard and maybe they will go away. Why through your land is my biggest question. Ridiculous govt and companies. 😦

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  8. This sucks, but I thought of a couple of quick things that may help.

    Trees are worth money. Like $$$. Get an arborist evaluation of the cost of replacement of the trees they would remove. This should include replacing them with same age and size trees. So if they cut down a 50 year old oak, they should pay you the value of a 50 year old oak. This is a 5 digit number. You can probably get a lawyer to back you up on this front. You can either scare them off your property or use that money to buy new trees or fix you arena or build a shelter or all three! (If they do end up removing the trees, sell the logs for a little extra cash. They will just chip them. Or keep them for jumps!)

    You might be able to get an easement with your neighbors for a new driveway path. I can’t totally understand the driveway situation from your post, but it may be easier to work with another neighbor in that regard.

    Roundup runoff to the pond probably won’t be a problem. I know it’s controversial, and I would be more than happy to discuss more with you, but all of the literature suggests that it’s half life in the environment means it won’t actually make it to your pond. A small consolation.

    Good luck! Hopefully they don’t have to come through your property at all!

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    1. Yes – want to chime in on this too. I’m a landscaper working in a sensitive watershed/runoff area, and have researched Roundup extensively trying to be a good steward. Apparently it persists for a couple of days at best. Doesn’t affect what it’s not sprayed on when used properly. Potentially more dangerous for the applicator than the environment. (not endorsing gmo modified roundup-resistant crops though)

      Best of luck with your battle – I can’t imagine how angry I would be in your situation…

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  9. Pretty sad you work so hard for something you think you own and people can come and just destroy it at their want and need. I’m so angry for you, I can’t even imagine. I can only say just don’t give up the fight. If you make enough noise and trouble, bad press etc they may not want the bad publicity.

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  10. I am totally in your corner and hope you guys can pull through and scare off Duke.

    On a practical and pessimistic note, if they do end up going through your property get your horses insured MM and Mortality – even just the basic coverage for the retirees. Shit happens. 😦

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    1. When they came Saturday to walk the property the driveway caused a lot of concern so hopefully it is enough to deter them. We’ve also called the Public Service Committee who said they weren’t even aware of the project and would be calling Duke to discuss so maybe there is hope yet

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